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How to Warm-Up Your Horse for a Dressage Competition

warm up dressage test competition

Getting your warm-up routine right is crucial if you’re going to produce your best performance in the dressage arena.

Cut your warm-up short, and you risk your horse being tense and tight. If you spend too long working-in, your mount could fall asleep half-way through your test.

So, how do you warm up your horse correctly?

Here are some tips on how to bring your horse to the boil right on time!

Chill out and loosen up!

Tension ruins any dressage test. So, what can you do to relax your horse?

Make sure you get to the competition venue in plenty of time so that you can give your horse a look around before you start warming him up. If your horse is inclined to be sharp and fizzy and the facilities permit, it might be a good idea to lunge him before you ride.

Once you’re on board, concentrate on the Scales of Training:

This stage of your warm-up routine is all about building confidence and encouraging the horse to relax in unfamiliar surroundings while addressing the first three training scales.

Start by working your horse forwards in a good rhythm so that he’s loose through his back and neck, politely seeking the contact without snatching at the bridle or leaning on you.

Don’t move on to the next stage of your working-in routine until you have your horse working actively through his back into an elastic contact.

This stage of your working-in routine should be ridden in rising trot so that your horse can use his back properly.

Building impulsion and straightness

Once you’ve got your horse relaxed and swinging along in a good rhythm, you can begin to focus on building impulsion and balance. The best way to do this is by using transitions within the paces and from one pace to another.

Transitions help to focus your horse’s mind on your aids. Keep your horse reactive to your leg and seat aids, trying to use the minimum amount of rein through every transition that you ride.

Transitions also help to bring the horse’s hind legs more underneath him, improving his uphill balance and allowing you to build impulsion. Only when your horse is working forward with impulsion can you develop straightness and, therefore, supple bend through his body around circles, turns, and corners.

When you have your horse working forward through his back in a good rhythm, seeking an elastic contact, and obedient to your leg and seat aids, you’re ready to go into the arena.

Don’t over-practice the movements of the test

Many people make the mistake of riding endlessly through the test while they’re working-in.

This tactic often backfires spectacularly in the arena when the helpful horse begins to anticipate the movements, for example jogging in medium walk in anticipation of a forthcoming walk-to-canter transition.

Horses for courses

Every horse is different, and what works for some doesn’t work so well for others.

Many riders find that their horses are much sharper at a competition than they are at home, meaning that it will take longer to work them in. And riders with lazy horses are often shocked to discover that they are aboard a fire-breathing dragon instead of a couch potato!

It may take you a few attempts to find out what working-in routine works best for your horse at a competition. As a rule of thumb, you can safely add an extra 15 minutes onto your usual home warm-up routine. So, make sure you get to the show venue in plenty of time!

In conclusion

Knowing how to warm up your horse correctly is essential if you’re going to perform at your best in the arena.

Devise a warm-up routine at home that brings your horse to the perfect point to enter down the center line, and time yourself.

When you go to a competition, add 15 minutes to your usual working-in time to compensate for the unfamiliar surroundings and extra excitement that may affect your horse on the day.

How do you warm up your horse for a competition? Share your top tips with other readers in the comments box below!

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